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Historic district residents upset over approval of new construction in Angelino Heights and Highland Park

Unwelcome new neighbor

By BARRY LANK

If you live in one of the city’s historic districts, change can be difficult. Even exterior paint colors can be subject to approval by a district board and city staff. But some residents of historic districts in Angelino Heights and Highland Park have discovered that their neighborhoods remain vulnerable to unwanted change.

This became abundantly clear to the Highland Park residents of Abbott Place who gathered recently for a meeting of the board that oversees the Highland Park-Garvanza Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, or HPOZ.

At issue was a new house on their street that was turning out to look bigger than expected. And there wasn’t much this layer of government could do to stop it now.

“I think we’re in a conundrum at this point,” said HPOZ Chair Charles Fisher, during a freewheeling meeting that pitted future neighbors against one another.

Some worried that this construction could sabotage the visual character of the neighborhood while others said that restarting the project could bankrupt a young couple planning on starting a family.

In September 2016, the historic district board gave their blessing to plans presented by artist Isaac Resnikoff to build a 2-story single-family home on an empty lot at 5323 E Abbott Place. Resnikoff even included a rendering from an architect of how the new home would fit in with old homes on the steep street.

Home Was Larger Than Neighbors Expected

But as the wood frame started going up, it was clear the new house was going to be bigger than what was depicted in the rendering. For example, the next-door neighbors uphill were supposed to be able to look over the roof of the new home and continue to enjoy their view. But instead, the next-door neighbors found themselves looking right into the western wall of the new place.

It must be noted that the house meets all the dimensions and specifications that were approved by the board and the city.

“Did Isaac mess up the drawings? Totally,” his partner, Lizz Wasserman, told the HPOZ board and a group of neighbors at the HPOZ’s Sept. 11 meeting. “Was it done with malice? No.”

While not all the neighbors seemed happy with that answer, local government now could not seem to offer any solutions.

Ken Bernstein, L.A.’s principal city planner, said his department relied on calculations from a licensed surveyor detailing the heights of the surrounding homes.

“If the neighbors wished to question how those calculations were used in the determination on this case, their recourse would have been to file an appeal,” he said. “However, no appeal was filed.”

Angeleno Heights Residents Cut Their Own Deal

Meanwhile earlier this year in Angeleno Heights, residents who encountered a similar situation have some advice: Don’t depend too much on the HPOZ board.

Last May, the HPOZ for Angelino Heights gave the thumbs up to a project at 1008 Douglas – rehabilitating a 1,623-square-foot home and building two new residential structures and a carriage house, demolishing a garage addition in the process.

Neighbors appealed the decision with a long list of objections. But the central complaint was similar to the issue in Highland Park: The new buildings were going to be out of proportion to the older house, dominating it visually.

While the appeal was rejected, neighbors ended up reaching a side agreement with the developer to reduce the size of new construction, according to one neighbor, Mark Thaley. Thaley and fellow neighbors had the benefit of getting involved early after attending a historic district meeting.

“The board should have said no, and they didn’t,” Thaley said. “Having a couple of citizens looking at that stuff and participating was critical,” Thaley said. Early research was key. “We asked the tough questions.”

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16 comments

  1. The “P” in HPOZ stands for PRESERVATION!
    A row of historical bungalows does not need a house that is so out of place. I’m not opposed to development, but preservation zones need to be off limits to this type of development. This city must retain some of its past. There’s thousands of other places in this city where this would not be an issue. Why did they need to build in an HPOZ? I don’t get it. That house is too out of scale.

    • I agree to the “P for PRESERVATION” if it applies to the preservation of building quality, which is independent of architectural style. Unfortunately, we can’t fool anyone: the 1890’s-1930’s are long gone. As an architect, I believe that historic styles should be confined to the time periods in which they were built. For example, I do not believe in an amusement park recreation of (F)art deco but in high-rise form on Miracle Mile. Nor do I believe in an Irvine neo-Tuscan Spanish mission revival-style house with a three-car garage. The variation in architectural styles makes cities interesting. Go to Europe!

      • I’m fine with architectural adventures and expressions, but there’s a zillion other areas in this state one can do that in. Los Angeles has set aside some zones to preserve some history. This house is being built in one of the zones. Just like the Coastal Zone along our coast. These zones are set aside for a purpose. I’m not saying one must build a cookie cutter Craftsman in a neighborhood of Crafsmen homes, however this home, as I see it, appears to be much taller and out of scope with the neighboring bungalows. Why would anyone want to obliterate their neighbor’s view? I truly don’t understand that mentality.

  2. Mary,
    This house looks to be very modest. I’m sure if I lived next door and had a view suddenly blocked it would be a huge disappointment but if you don’t like houses next to yours then move to a farm. LA needs more housing and as a formally housing insecure person (spent three months on couches and my car), I have to say these neighbors come off as entitled brats.

    • Agreed. This house looks to be modest and in character with the surrounding homes. The craftsman nextdoor uphill should have purchased the empty lot if the owner didn’t want a neighbor. I get preservation but this is as NIMBY as it gets. Let them build it.

    • Sorry to read that you are homeless. Those of us that have lived here for over 40 years and saw all the trees torn down, felt and feel real pain. But it is people like those you defend that have the $$$ to build from nothing….who are to blame for the huge homeless situation going on in Highland Park. What is to be done…nothing, because if you can afford it build bigger and higher to block out neighbors!
      Ana

  3. I’m so sorry Mary, but don’t you suppose the complaining neighbor might block what might otherwise be a lovely view from the house just up the hill from them? If they REALLY wanted their view preserved they REALLY should have purchased the empty lot and kept it empty at their own expense or perhaps you should have purchased the lot if you want it empty.

    • Then why should we have preservation zones? Once again, I am NOT opposed to building houses on empty lots, but every other house on that block makes way for their neighbor’s view. It’s just kind and considerate and inkeeping with the nature of the block. It’s not about the view, it’s about the overall feel of the block and this is why the HPOZ all agreed they would NOT HAVE OK’d the house being built had they BEEN SHOWN WHAT EXACTLY WAS GOING TO BE BUILT.
      I’m all for new building, ADU’s, etc, but to SCALE. Drive by the place and see for yourself. It’s just down the hill from Avenue 53. I drove by and it’s TOTALLY OUT OF SCALE. As far as I’m concerned, this is not the type of neighbor I would want moving in next to me. That house is ridiculous! Probably some more rich kids moving in doing whatever they want with no regard for the history of the neighborhood.

      • HPOZs are there to preserve historic structures, this was an empty lot. What are you talking about?

        “It’s not about the view, it’s about the overall feel of the block.” Sure…..

        “I’m all for new building.” No you’re not.

        “Probably some more rich kids moving in doing whatever they want with no regard for the history of the neighborhood.” Way to judge a book by its cover?

        I live close by and I have absolutely no issues with this project. I hope they get to finish it as fast as possible.

    • No. Every house on the hill affords a view for the next person. This is the only house that will block their neighbor’s view on the block as the hill slopes down. This is why the HPOZ would have denied the plan had the owners shown them what they really intended on building, but instead the HPOZ was shown a rendering of a lower, more appropriately scaled bungalow. The original plan for the hill had each neighbor in mind as they built the house below them because it’s harmonious, balanced, and kind. This house is too large.
      All the neighbors agreed and welcomed the new house because we were shown a different rendering. The house being built is not what we were shown and the HPOZ has admitted they would NOT HAVE OK’d the house being built had they been shown a true to scale rendering.
      The Figueroa corridor is historic and beautiful because countless volunteers worked hard to preserve the architecture and deny mini malls from being built. It’s just ONE ZONE, not the entire city we are preserving here. There were many concerned citizens at the HPOZ meeting when this issue was being raised with the house being built on Abbott. There were concerned citizens from all over Highland Park, not just the neighbors. There was not one supporter there of this out of scale house being built.

  4. These neighbors make we want to dig a hole in my big toe. I can only imagine they are “progressives” and bemoan, at dinner parties, the stratospheric housing prices in our fair city and the related explosion of homelessness. Might it ever occur to them that by building more housing you are helping to alleviate both?

  5. Here’s the deal: the owners of this project obfuscated the truth in order to gain favor with the community. They provided erroneous, inaccurate documentation to obtain HPOZ approval and, ultimately, the C of A by which they were able to move ahead through city planning, engineering and plan check. Every sitting member of the HPOZ board are on record stating that, had this project been accurately represented at review, it would not have been approved.

    To the comment raising the issue of housing, homelessness and development in Los Angeles, I can safely assert that this home, this bespoke expression of urban architecture, will do nothing more than provide a roof for a wealthy couple who are part of tide of wealth and privilege investing in the Northeast communities.

    In closing, and in response to the “Go to Europe” comment, I would argue for the importance and value of historical preservation. The resurgence of the Figueroa corridor, the willingness of investors to invest in these properties is, in large, due to the tireless, decades-long efforts of local community preservation activists. You cannot tell me that Figueroa, with its quaint storefronts, 20’s and 30’s facades and careful attention to maintaining these architectural elements, would not now be the darling of the new class of Northeast resident were it not for its unique historical fabric.

    The project smacks of colonialism- It’s part and parcel of the rising tide of wealth and privilege that dictates self-interest over the community at large. Had the owners truly wished to be part of this community, they would have engaged in a project that was in harmony with the neighborhood and its residents.

  6. This is one of the most important articles ever published in the history of The Eastsider L.A. website.
    That’s because it teaches a priceless lesson which needs to be learned by any individual citizen or member of an organized group whose mission is to provide oversight of proposed new development and preservation of community building standards.
    You can NEVER analyze a proposed building project by studying the renderings supplied by the developer.
    Renderings are not plans.
    Renderings are part of the sales and marketing materials for the project.
    Effective oversight requires study and analysis of the actual structural, engineering and architectural plans of the proposed project.
    Any neighborhood resident based organization which hopes to provide oversight of proposed developments will need to recruit members with professional level legal and engineering skills to effectively analyze planning documents.
    Or that oversight organization needs to raise funds so they can hire their own consultant to analyze planning documents for proposed new developments.

  7. I attended these meetings for the house on Abbott Place. Ms. K. Debiase, from the City planning office, said at one of the meetings that HPOZ board members’ recommendations were basically useless. HPOZ members were shocked to see what they approved in the painting/drawing of the new house and what is actually being built…they said they would not have approved such a building if it had been true to what is now built. Who thought to change the plans that were approved? If they can do this why not everyone else. Submit one drawing, get it approved by HPOZ then do what you want to really build, the City Planning Commission will not check out anything, just stamp and Approve.

  8. I think Frank Wight’s comments are spot-on. The future of historic preservative is dependent on knowledgeable, educated oversight.

    I’m curious to know what the poster’s opinion is with regards to the responsibility of the architect-of-record to produce accurate renderings of the proposed project. The architect’s web page contains scale-accurate renders of the project, produced in a scale-aware software application, including geo-slope-band details, so certainly the means were there by which an accurate mass, scale and elevation study could have been produced.

    Sale and marketing aside, what is the fiduciary responsibility of a project architect to represent his or her project with some degree of accuracy? In this case, the “render” or “sketch” (the only massing comparative documentation provided) was near 100% off in vertical scale!

    • Some neighbors on Abbott Place were recently denied a second story when then presented the HPOZ board with accurately scaled architectural renderings of what the house would look like. It pays to show the board renderings that are not accurate and misrepresent the actual scale because it appears once you get the permit ok’d there’s nothing can be done. It doesn’t pay to provide honest images of proposed development if the HPOZ will deny it, so just present a small scaled, low bungalow and omit about 8 to 10 feet in height….then build a huge house and block neighbor’s view and disrupt the flow and harmony of the block.

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